The Election Continues but the Referendum on the Soul of America Is Over

The Election Continues but the Referendum on the Soul of America Is Over November 4, 2020

For all my skepticism and cynicism, I tend to believe people are basically good. When conflicts arise I usually assume ignorance is the root cause, rather than malice.

And despite being very much aware of my bias, I still tend to make the classic liberal error of assuming that education is the solution to most of our problems: if people can understand the problems, they’ll make the right decisions. Of course, they rarely do.

Last month I wrote that this election is a referendum on the soul of America. I honestly believed that after having watched and listened to Donald Trump day in and day out for four years, a significant number of people who voted for Trump in 2016 would recognize their error and vote him out.

How naïve.

As I write this the election is not settled. I said there were three ways the election could go – two of them are still in play. But in my heart I believed we would see a decisive Biden victory – a decisive repudiation of Donald Trump.

My mistake became apparent when the early results came in and Florida was close. Now, the polls had Biden up by 1.5% (well within the margin of error) so it’s no surprise Trump won Florida. But if the country was going to reject Trump, this is where it would have started.

It didn’t.

Half the country likes Trump

In 2016 Hillary Clinton was an unpopular candidate who ran a questionable campaign. Many analysts said she lost because people who had previously voted for Obama stayed home. While Joe Biden is far from a perfect candidate, he’s already received more votes than any other candidate in history. Biden didn’t lose Florida, Ohio, and Texas because he was a weak candidate.

Trump won Florida, Ohio, and Texas because a majority of people in those states like Trump.

Or if they don’t like him personally, they like the way he governs.

I read a lot of different perspectives, both religiously and politically. Over the past couple of months I’ve read a lot of conservatives who’ve tried to distance themselves from Trump’s vile personal conduct. But they were still voting for him, because they like his authoritarian rule, gutting environmental regulations, cutting taxes for the rich, and especially the way he’s packed the courts with “originalists” and dominionists.

And a lot of Trump voters really do like Trump. He gives them permission to be racist and sexist. He affirms their hatred of Muslims and immigrants. He tells them it’s OK to discriminate against gay people and pretend transgender people don’t exist.

“He just says what everyone is thinking.” No, but he says what half the country is thinking.

An outdated constitution

The only reason we’re even having this conversation is that we’re operating under the oldest active codified constitution in the world, an 18th century system devised as a compromise to satisfy slave owners that was invented before the telegraph, much less radio, TV, or the internet. It hasn’t been significantly amended since 1971.

It was designed to be conservative. Certainly there’s something to be said for sticking with what works, even if it doesn’t work perfectly. But the Electoral College, the Senate, and the lack of the ERA have made it impossible to adequately respond to the needs of our modern society.

I don’t know how to fix this

At the least, we need constitutional amendments to abolish the Electoral College, assign Senate seats proportionately, ban discrimination based on sex / gender / orientation / identity, expand the Supreme Court (with fixed terms instead of lifetime appointments), and outlaw gerrymandering. Education and health care need to be recognized as rights.

We need to abolish the two-party system, because it’s not working. I don’t know if that means ranked choice voting, a parliamentary system, or something else. But the system we have requires compromise and cooperation, and that ended with the Gingrich Revolution.

How do we do that? I don’t know how to argue with someone who thinks votes from Wyoming should count more than votes from Texas. I don’t know how to argue with someone who thinks discrimination based on any form of identity or orientation should be acceptable.

I don’t know how to argue with people whose philosophy is “I got mine, screw you.”

I just know the current U.S. constitution was written by and for people who do. And they’re unlikely to agree to changing it.

Biden may very well end up winning

The election isn’t settled and it won’t be settled today. Nevada isn’t going to report any more results until Thursday. Pennsylvania may not be finished until Friday – as they’ve warned all along. Biden can lose Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania and still win if he wins Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

But it appears unlikely the Democrats will take the Senate. So even if Biden wins, Mitch McConnell will block anything he wants to do. No health care expansion. No taking Covid – and its economic impact – seriously. No action on climate change. No court reforms.

Removing Trump would be a good thing. It would be great thing for my mental health to not have to listen to him anymore. But while a blue wave was never going to fix everything, a Democratic President with a Republican Senate isn’t going to fix much of anything.

But the referendum on the soul of America is over

Joe Biden is not a perfect candidate. He was literally my last choice among the 20 or so Democrats who started the primary process. But his policies and especially his temperament are light years better than Donald Trump.

And half the country still voted for Trump.

I’ve always heard the cliché “one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole barrel.” That may be true. But an apple that’s half rotten is a rotten apple.

The soul of America is rotten.

I’m too old to leave the country – nobody will take me. I don’t have enough money to buy citizenship in another country. And I’m relatively privileged: I’m a straight white man with a middle class job. I need to stay and be part of the half that keeps trying to make things better.

But I’m horribly disappointed with my fellow Americans, and I’m embarrassed by my own naivety.

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